Holly Farrell - Painter
Who was your childhood hero?
My mother. Anyone who knows me, or reads my constant blurbs on Instagram or Facebook would know this about me. She came through life against all odds. She was an inspiration to those who knew her. She was a lot of fun, an adventurous spirit. She was loved. She loved. I spent many creative weekends with her - we painted together. A widow with seven children, she sacrificed a lot for us. I think each of her children ended up expressing something of her own dreams for herself. My mother had many talents…she just didn’t have to time to fully direct them because she had to put food on the table. We lost her early due to the pandemic. The quarantines delayed her treatment. I miss her a lot.
What things do you like NOT to do?
On a small scale I have a problem with leaving things as I found them. I’m not sure why this is but I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember. I’m not a 'tidy as I go' kind of person, whether I’m painting or whether I’m cooking, or anything else. I leave the rooms with doors wide open and drawers choking trapped socks and underwear…’stuff’ on every surface. Lucky for me, my husband is an obsessive tidier and puts everything back to where it’s supposed to be - closes things, tucks the socks in, sets furniture to rights, books in proper order - it’s like magic for me. He only blows his top once in a blue moon : )
All time favorite song?
Probably Dylan’s Jokerman. Or maybe Elvis’s Help Me. I listen to music all the time. Picking one, I would be cheating on another.
What is the first thing you do when you start your work day
My studio is in my house. When I’m not actually painting I’m often visualizing in order to tackle challenges before taking up the brush. I like to paint in my pjs…it’s when I’m most comfortable - so, coffee in hand, hair unbrushed, sometimes a cat on my lap, I start with the less finicky work until my hand wakes up, my mind wakes up, and the cat gets bored and wanders off.
Super power or spirit animal, which and why?
Super power or crippling obsession? I love animals. I do. I connect with them all. I don’t eat them. I help them when I can…say the 60 odd stray cats I’ve collected and re-homed over the last 35 years - the worst of them lived long and ornery lives at our own expense and accommodation. My superpower might be in just loving animals that no-one else would love.
On our two current felines, I spotted their mugs on a bulletin board at the vet's office. They were pinned to that board for a long time, long enough that our cats Rosie and Kenny were able to finish their living without the added stress of two cats they would definitely see as ‘replacements’. So as I was picking up Kenny’s ashes I was dialing the number on the board. “Hello, are Boo and Tumba still needing a home?” “Yes”, he said. I think of these two cats as my reward for all of the sometimes crazy, sometimes mean, sometimes aloof, sometimes very sick, sometimes cats we have that we have dedicated a good part of our lives to. If there were no other reason to go on, I would go on for them.
Phone, 2021, acrylic & oil on board, 20 x 14 inches.
When are you most comfortable in your own skin?
Honestly, literally, when I’m in my pyjamas. I start my day painting in my pjs. A little later on I usually put on ‘actual painting clothes’, just in case the doorbell rings. After a few hours work, maybe around 4pm, I stop painting and go upstairs to put on my pyjamas. I tell Steven it's my 'loungewear', because it’s not pyjama time yet. After dinner I call them pyjamas again. So unless I am out of the house, or in my mid-day painting clothes...
When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?
I thought I was destined to be a housewife of sorts. In 'small town 1960s Ontario’, it was a goal, or maybe the only option for me and my friends. My preference would have been a Doris Day type housewife - beautiful clothes, puffy hair, always a funny Doris Day crisis happening - and very pink lipstick. Or maybe a haughty, saucy Marilyn Monroe type housewife.
I grew up in a confusing time where I saw women struggling to break free from traditions, but having few opportunities to express their smarts. What I think I really wanted was to go somewhere where I could be a different person than what people expected of me. That panned out.
Do you feel you have met your own expectations?
Growing up my models, other than my mother, were still portrayed as the weaker sex, delegated to be a support to the husband, raise the kids, clean the house - I was destined to fail as all these things weren't even close to who I was. So yes, I’ve exceeded any expectations I might have had. Over time I’ve been able to trip and flounder my way into art, independence, and some kind of surety in life.
How do you spend Sunday?
I lost the idea of Sunday a long time ago. Every day I hope to find room to paint in. Other responsibilities now pull me away more often that I would like. So let’s say I’ll call any day Sunday a day that I find myself wholly (holy?) involved in painting - my day of rest involves a good day of painting - it’s me feeling my best.
Linen Towel, 2020, acrylic & oil on board, 20x14.
If you had to wear one outfit from head to toe every day for a year, what would it be?
Some would say I do that. I sometimes wonder if my neighbours pick up the phone to report to each other when “...she's ‘changed’ for the season.” As a rule I’m not keen on pants. I like to layer. I prefer tights, a slip, a dress, a sweater if need be. My absolute favourite dress right now is my Sleep Domi T Shirt Dress. I could wear it every day…and almost do, if not for laundering. I am all for comfort, but this dress is so suited to my inner style…with a slip…with tights, or not if it’s hot…with any shoes, boots, or flip flops - the occasion or weather determines the footwear. But this dress accompanies me everywhere from day tripping to art openings. Plain or fancy, it suites who I am. I feel good in it. I know that seems like a Domi plug, but it’s the truth.
Is there something you secretly take pleasure in but are kind of embarrassed to admit?
I will write about the first thing that popped into my head…
I have always liked Pepsi. When we were little my mom used to let me and my sisters choose one bottle of pop and one small bag of chips to have as a treat while watching Friday night movies - this was when we owned a small roadside diner in Northern Ontario. Pepsi won over Cream Soda most Fridays. Plain or Bbq chips was always an epic struggle for me. This tradition stopped when we moved away from the diner.
I stopped drinking Pepsi for the most part of my teendom (bad for me), and my adult life as well (bad for me). Though, if I was dying of thirst and water was not to be had, I would ask for a Pepsi - not from a soda machine, but from a bottle, or a can.
For some reason, over some years, Steven began to pick up on this Pepsi thing. Now he’s taken to slipping Pepsi, semi regularly, into the shopping cart - and always making sure there is one cold in the fridge on most days. I will take the occasional sip, cold and fizzy, and put it back. To take more than an occasional sip would take the specialness out of it. So this one bottle lasts days in our fridge. The bottle empties but a fraction at a time…but each time I stand there, eyes closed, and experience that cold pleasure of a slow Pepsi burn, I feel the pure unadultered joy of an eight year old. I sound like a lunatic, but this was the tone of my childhood - we didn’t have much money, so when we chose, we chose well, and savoured every moment of anything that was good.
What has been the most significant plot twist in your life?
I’m an artist, and it's what I do for a living. Never in a million years would I have guessed my life would eclipse Mr Dressup's crafts and sock puppets. Don’t get me wrong, I got as much joy as a child plugging away at Mr Dressup’s art projects as I do now plugging away at my painting. I am grateful for every day I can paint.
How did you spend your last birthday?
Painting all day. In the evening a movie and popcorn and Pepsi. No dessert or cake - which is a killer for Steven, as I prefer apples to dessert…and it’s MY birthday after all. So I had an apple after popcorn and Pepsi.
It’s talent night, what will you be bringing?
Gee whiz. I don’t know. Something outside of what is normal for me…most likely performed by someone other than me. I absolutely freeze in front of an audience - which is why I have to turn down requests for artist talks, or live interviews of any kind. People used to say with practise I would get better. Finally, after years of seeing me struggle people stopped saying that and said instead, don’t do it.
Maybe someone could stand in for me and read one of my dumb stories…
Holly Farrell lives in Toronto with her husband and their ever fluctuating number of cats (currently Boo and Tumba). She paints mainly still life’s, but has also made occasional forays into Portraiture and Landscape painting. Her most recent solo exhibition of paintings of vintage record albums took place in 2021 at the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto. Holly is also represented by Clark Gallery in Boston who will host an exhibition of her work in the Fall.
Photo credit: Holly and Boo by Steven Naylor
Pulp Paperbacks (All The Way), 2020, acrylic & oil on board, 14 x 18 inches.
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what an artist in every way. the perfect read to start a week.
Anytime you need a reader, I’d be honoured. Great interview. Great subject.
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